Updated: Feb 11
Sauvignon Blanc is, if not the most popular, then one of the most popular grape varieties and in the last 20 years, the grape has seen an explosion in regions that grow it, but does this make any difference and would you prefer one to the other?
Sauvignon Blanc is a green skin grape variety which originated from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux region of France. The first cuttings of the grape were sent to California in 1880 and performed well, but only made it to New Zealand in the 1970’s. This new world region now exports more than 210 million litres of Sauvignon Blanc per year and has become a powerhouse in the market.
The Sauvignon Blanc grape is one of the widest grown grapes on the planet and is known for its crisp, dry and refreshing characteristics. Sauvignon Blanc carries the primary flavours of green apple, lime and white peach and fundamentally the balance of these flavours is dictated by the climate and the soil type. This is where old wines differ to new world wines.
How does climate affect a Sauvignon Blanc?
Cool climates contribute to crisper and drier wines and warmer climates leads to sweeter wines. Obviously there is a lot more than that to factor in, such as wind, temperature ranges and the direction the grapes face, but this simple fundamental principle will stand you in good stead. New world wines tend to be in warmer climates so are sweeter than their traditional French equivalents.
Soil type plays a huge part too
The soils in France are chalky and stony in nature, meaning the roots grow long and deep as the water drains to the water table quickly. The grapes thrive here but also mature and ripen fairly quickly. This leads to a more acidic, floral and almost perfume type characteristic. In contrast, the soils in places like South Africa and New Zealand are more sandy and dense. The roots are shallower and not as healthy, meaning the grapes take longer to ripen. This adds to the level of sugar and the grapes take on a more fruity and sweeter taste. Interestingly, this added sugar is also why New World wines tend to have a higher alcohol content than old world wines.
What else affects the taste of a Sauvignon Blanc?
A vineyard on a slope will generally grow superior grapes than one on a flat piece of ground. Slopes drain better, the sun bounces off the slope so as to not burn the vines, and the breeze helps cool down the vines. You will often find vineyards near lakes and rivers also as this improves drainage and reflects the sun. Whether new or old world, these factors affect the price. Superior grapes on slopes accompanied by more expensive harvesting leads to a higher price to the customer.
Old vs young?
About 90% of Sauvignon Blancs are drunk young. This is why they almost all now have screw caps rather than corks. The exception is the Sancerre from France. This is often aged in oak barrels and you will find compared to a younger and new world wine, this wine takes on a more creamy, vanilla almost warm bread type complexion. This additional process and flavour is the reason Sancerre is often one of the most expensive Sauvignon Blancs on the shelves.
How do you impress your friends and tell them apart?
To look at, new world and old world Sauvignon Blancs look very similar. They are a mid to dark colour, darker than a Pinot Grigio, because of the green skin on the grape that comes through. On the nose, your old world Sauvignon will have more lime, green apple and even an asparagus type hint to it. New World Sauvignons will be fruitier and sweeter and often more vibrant. To taste, the old world will be crisp, dry and floral and your new world will again be fruity and sweet.
Cheese & Winesdays
If you like wine then you will love Wednesday's with us at The Leafy Elephant. Every Wednesday, treat yourself to our wine tasting board, with your choice of 3 white's or 3 red's which we hand pick and change each month and pair with a delightful cheese board. Find out what is on this month's menu and book a table here.